APF crowned Women’s League championsBhagawoti Thapa’s side were assured of title before their match against Biratnagar after departmental rivals Army and Nepal played a 1-1 draw earlier on the day.
Nepal Armed Police Force (APF) Club clinched the title of the National Women’s League for a record-equalling fourth time on Wednesday.
The holders needed only one win to retain their title, when the day’s early match between Tribhuvan Army Club and Nepal Police Club began at the ANFA Complex.
But the second-placed Army played a 1-1 draw in their departmental derby, conceding the title to APF even before the latter's match against Biratnagar started later in the day. Army could have closed the gap with APF to two points with a win, but the draw placed them four points below the top with the last rounds match in hand.
Had Army beaten Police, it would have been a different afternoon for APF who were missing their firepower Sabitra Bhandari due to an anterior cruciate ligament injury on her right knee that she picked up during a match against Police two days ago.
Their match against Police was the only time APF had failed to keep a clean sheet this season, with the opponents finding equaliser minutes after Bhandari was stretchered off the ground.
Instead APF went on to beat Biratnagar 1-0 to keep their winning streak for 11 matches as Bhandari watched from the stands.
The 2006, 2010 and 2017-18 winners APF have also matched the record of Police for winning the trophy for four times. Yet, they are still far from matching Police’s record of four consecutive titles from 2012-2015.
The 2019-20 season of the women’s league was cancelled owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Yes, we won the title. But, of course, it was a bittersweet victory for the team,” said APF coach Bhagawoti Thapa.
“Sabitra could not play due to her injury and it definitely spoiled our celebratory mood,” she added.
The 25-year-old national team striker, who is the top scorer in the league this season with 43 goals, is set to face a lengthy spell in the sidelines—that will also rule her out of APF’s final league match against Army at the Dasharath Stadium on Friday.
“Bhandari is a crucial player to our game plan. Her injury has cost us a lot. We could not play as we wanted in today’s game,” Thapa further added.
Even after already named champions, it was a hard-fought victory for APF who had thrashed the metropolitan team 7-0 in the first leg.
After a goalless first half, forward Anita KC scored the winner in the 55th minute converting a pass from Anita Basnet. The league champions will now only focus their attention to maintaining a cent percent winning record in the closing ceremony.
Biratnagar have accumulated 16 points after playing all matches and their coach Paras Chaudhary was thrilled with his team’s performance.
“We had a wonderful campaign. The players have performed better than expected,” said Chaudhary.
Earlier, with APF reeling under Bhandari injury, Army at least had slim hopes the tide might turn into their favour. Instead they were left stunned early in the game when Police defender Amrita Jaisi’s header from a corner deflected off Army defender Bimala BK before finding the back of the net.
But Forward Rashmi Ghising stepped forward to rescue a point for Army in the 53rd minute brilliantly firing on the roof of the net from six yard out after she was set up by second-half substitute Indira Rai.
Police had a golden opportunity to retake the lead in the 87th minute when they were awarded a penalty after a handball from Sharmila Thapa, but Police captain Ghim Kumari Gurung’s spot kick sailed over the bar.
Army were already guaranteed second place finish in the league given a nine point lead over currently third-placed Biratnagar. They now have 26 points from 11 matches having played two draws and a loss. They were also held to a goalless stalemate against Police in the first leg in the league opener while their only defeat this season came against APF which the champions won 2-0.
“We played to win today but conceding early was a huge blow,” said Army coach Raju Tamang.
“Our players were tired…maybe that is the reason they could not find a winner,” he added.
Police are placed in the fourth spot with 15 points but can still topple Biratnagar at third if they win their remaining last match against bottom club Chaudandigadhi Municipality on the final day, which is also scheduled at the Dasharath Stadium.
“We could have won if we had not missed the penalty,” said Police coach Sanjeev Joshi.
Waling Municipality, who take on sixth-placed Chandrapur Municipality on Thursday, are in fifth with 14 points.